Secretary of State Kerry said Friday he expects new talks on Syria to begin as soon as next week, and did not rule out participation by Iran, Reuters reports.
Asked if a meeting next week could include Iran, Kerry said he would not speculate on who might attend. But he added: "We want to be inclusive and err on the side of inclusivity rather than exclusivity."
Iran has not been invited to previous international peace conferences on Syria, all of which ended in failure, while the war, which has so far killed more than 250,000 people and driven millions from their homes, has raged on.
There is a strong correlation between the fact that Iran has been excluded and the fact that previous efforts have failed. If you want to end a war through negotiations, the key parties involved in the war have to be at the table - isn't that obvious? As Jeremy Shapiro of Brookings told NPR:
A. SHAPIRO (Host): One important party is not at the negotiating table in Vienna, and that is Iran. Can any kind of a solution be reached without Iranian involvement?
J. SHAPIRO: I don't think so. I think that the Iranians are too important on the ground in Syria. They have too much influence with the Assad regime and the various militias that are supporting it, and they have too much capacity to spoil any agreement that has been made without them. I think that whether we like it or not, if we're going to have a political settlement to the Syrian civil war, the Iranians need to be part of it.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said during the UN General Assembly that five countries are key to a political solution: the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran. As the BBC reported at the time:
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said five countries - Russia, the US, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran - were key to finding a political solution in Syria, but unless they could compromise, it would be "futile" to expect change on the ground.
Why was Iran excluded from the Vienna meeting? Because Saudi Arabia said so, apparently. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said Monday it was difficult to envision a role for Iran in ending the war due to Iran's military role in the conflict. That, of course, makes no sense at all. The other countries the Secretary General named - the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey - have a military role in the conflict. That's why they're crucial to a solution. Saudi Arabia doesn't want Iran to participate because Saudi Arabia doesn't want Iran to have a say in the resolution. That's the same as saying that you want to keep the war going.
The notion that the U.S. should defer to the Saudi monarch's insistence on excluding Iran, despite the fact that Iran is almost universally acknowledged to be crucial to a political solution, recalls what President Bill Clinton reportedly said in 1996 after his first meeting with then (and now) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:
"Who the f* does he think he is? Who's the f*ing superpower here?"
Why should we take orders on Syria diplomacy from a king who still doesn't allow women to drive? Let's not care what Saudi don't allow - let's talk to Iran anyhow. If you agree with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Brookings that Iran should be included in talks to end the war, you can tell President Obama and Congress so here.